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Surgery Looks at Inventions and Innovations by Surgeons

Surgeons are uniquely positioned to recognize areas for improvement in patient care and to develop innovative solutions to meet those needs.

However, even the most productive surgical researchers may lack the know-how to develop their insights into successful commercial products. A special symposium in the February issue of SURGERY (Volume 143, Number 2, February 2008) provides surgeons with expert insights into the process of developing their ideas into commercially viable products that will benefit large numbers of patients—while providing a financial return to inventors, investors, and university research departments.

Invited by the editors of SURGERY (
the symposium includes contributions from a cross-section of experts, including noted experts in copyright and intellectual property, technology transfer, biomedical engineering, and finance, as well as from surgeons experienced in translating research ideas into the marketplace.

With mounting financial pressures academic medical centers are seeking new ways to support their missions of education, patient care, and research. A key initial question is whether the idea is patentable—that is, truly new, useful, and non-obvious. Once an idea with commercial potential is recognized, it must be developed through the complex processes leading to commercialization.

The eleven articles in the symposium emphasize that surgeons who invent new products provide a positive service, bringing valuable ideas from concept to the patient's bedside. Without the arduous and painstaking process of commercialization—including finding investors willing to take the financial risk of funding new technologies—innovative techniques of clinical value will never be developed to the scale at which they can benefit large numbers of patients.

For surgeon-researchers used to academic freedom and research for its own sake, collaborating with industry raises some unaccustomed issues. An overarching issue is conflict of interest. Today, universities have strict policies regarding potential financial conflicts of interest. These policies play an essential role in minimizing research bias and protecting patients serving as research subjects. However, one article in the symposium argues that an obsessive focus on conflict-of-interest disclosures hinders the development of beneficial research and innovations.

The development of new health science technologies offers a rare combination of potentially large financial returns with true health care advances with a significant impact on patients. In an introductory note, SURGERY Co-Editors-in-Chief Andrew L. Warshaw and Michael G. Sarr write, "The Editors offer this compendium, evidence of a changing academic world, in the hopes that our novel, imaginative, and innovative nuggets will be recognized and their value realized."

Anna Hogrebe | alfa
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